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A Journey into Design Thinking to Tackle Classroom Challenges

A Journey into Design Thinking to Tackle Classroom Challenges

Design thinking isn’t a subject, topic or class. It’s more of a way of solving problems that encourage positive risk-taking and creativity.

-From LAUNCH by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani-

I am not proud to say this but I am really struggling with our school’s initiative to tear down classroom walls and combine classes to increase collaboration. I’m usually keen to try out new ideas but it’s made me question so many things about what is trending in education and has really made me “sharpen my stone” when it comes to classroom management.  But here’s the thing, I don’t want to ‘manage’ the students, I want to empower them. So I wonder what I am missing –how can I use this structure and type of learning to fulfill the needs of our 21st-century learners? How will this better prepare them for their future?  George Curous says “Change is an opportunity to do something amazing“. So I’ve taken on my innovator’s mindset and have begun to apply design-thinking to build a better functioning learning environment.

In Design Thinking, initially, you seek to understand your “audience” or the “user” and define the problems that they may have.  Currently, we have two perspectives to consider: our students and our team of teachers. Collectively we are a community of learners, but it’s important to put the needs of the children first–they are the reason why we are here anyway, right?!  But as teachers, we are the facilitators of this change, so I think our focus will ultimately be on the big WE, and cannot carve ourselves out of the equation when developing a flourishing community of learning.

user experience.jpg
The journey begins! What does our community of learners need? Why? How does it make them feel?!

Because this is the research and discovery phase, I am really digging into books and articles to find ways to make this work–not that we survive but to thrive in such an environment, and turn this challenge into an opportunity.

So I’ve begun to approach our situation through the lens of curiosity and ask questions about the challenges that are most immediate and pressing. As teachers, we have three main areas of concern: time for learning, the organization of the learning space, and conducting effective and engaging classroom discussion (in the large group and in small groups with our noisy space). Here is a list of just some of the questions I have begun to formulate about our collaborating Grade 1 classes:

  1. How can we structure our timetable to ensure that we have enough stand-alone literacy, maths and then transdisciplinary unit time?
  2. Of those transdisciplinary subject areas, how best do we need to develop the knowledge and skills in that areas?-in the “large group” (both classes combined) or in “split groups” (separated grade 1 classes) or through a carousel of activities.
  3. How do individual voices get heard in all the “noise”? What tools and strategies do we need to employ to make sure that there is a diversity of ideas being shared, especially our English Language Learners?
  4. How can we use our space to design areas, not just for literacy and maths, but for genuine collaboration, creativity, and quiet?
  5. What gets the kids not just “doing stuff” but actually thinking and reflecting?
  6. And how do we develop strong relationships with our students, knowing about who they are and how they learn best? What feedback systems can we create to help them go from learning passively to actively engaging and ultimately being empowered?

Although I know that we have already begun a rough “prototype” with how we tackle these challenge areas, I recognize that we need more time to understand our learners, our constraints and what the research says about developing more collaborative learning environments, which some have dubbed as Modern Learning Environments (MLE). 

desing evolved
From the wonderful website: http://corbercreative.com/the-ux-process/

So as I layer the designer mindset to frame our challenges, I recognize that we will need to actually get more data. If I am to rewind and start again, then our discovery phase requires a deeper analysis into the complexities of our learners and the needs of our community. Other than our co-planning meetings and daily reflections, I have 2 other ideas for mining some data:

  1. Student survey: we need to find other ways to include their student ideas so they are co-designers of our learning community. In the book, The Space: A Guide for Educators  , the authors encourage including student voice to create a purpose for the learning spaces and cultivate behaviors that support their emotional and mental growth. I am thinking of using the formative assessment app Plickers for a general climate survey and then work on interviewing students either individually or in small groups to get their feedback and input on how we can improve the learning.
  2. Fly on the Wall-I would like to ask some staff members, including administrators, to just pop in and make objective observations. I am thinking about making a questionnaire as a framework for their drop-ins, but I’m also really curious about them just capturing some conversations that they hear–what is the “talk” in the classroom?

As I begin to dive into our data, I will be sure to share some of the results. Truthfully, I’ve always thought about design thinking as something that you introduce when doing project-based learning and never thought to use it in this context, so I’m exploring new territory.  I am really keen to hear other people’s stories and ideas about how I can go deeper. What am I missing? What suggestions do you have?

When “Me” Changes to “We”: 6 Things to Consider With Teacher Collaboration

When “Me” Changes to “We”: 6 Things to Consider With Teacher Collaboration

When I arrived at Vientiane International School, the primary school classroom walls were taken down either altogether or partially during the summer. This left no choice for teachers to figure out how they might manage this open concept idea. Would teachers coexist, cooperate or collaborate? How would they approach this new initiative by admin and how would they manage this new relationship to sharing their “teacher territory” with their peers? These were looming questions that began our teacher prep week at VIS and the context for the ideas I share.

Let’s be clear, there is a big difference between “coexisting”, “cooperating” and “collaboration”,  so I’d like to dissect these terms.

collaborateCoexisting in a space means that you both “live” there and tolerate each other and are friendly, but you are doing your own thing. Cooperating means that you are developing a relationship with another person because it is mutually beneficial to do so;  on occasion, you plan something together or share resources on a needs-based basis. Collaborating means that you co-labor together, working together toward a common goal, which could be done in parallel with each other, in supporting roles or as a tag team. It is a very powerful model for learning but it’s not an easy one to pull off and takes some time to develop a strong working relationship with the team of teachers.

According to the work of Ochan and Bill Powell,  there are 6 things that need to be considered and agreed upon before teachers begin to embark upon this professional journey:

  1. Roles and responsibilities: Figure out who is going to take the lead in what learning area. What systems and routines do you want to use in the classroom?
  2. Attitudes:  Assess what philosophies and practices you share in common. What can you agree upon?  How can you share joint-ownership for the students and the learning space?
  3. Planning: What are you going to plan together? What are you going to plan on your own? How will you share your planning with each other?
  4. Delivery of Instruction: How is the learning going to look? Will it be done in large or small groups? What will the groupings be based upon and what model of collaboration will you employ?
  5. Assessment of Student Learning: What tools and procedures will be in place to evaluate student progress? Who is assessing what students and how frequently will this be done? Where will these assessments be kept and how can team members access them?
  6. Evaluation and Reflection on the Learning:  How can teachers provide feedback on the effectiveness of the learning? How frequently will this be done and in what format? What norms must be established so that feedback is seen as a positive habit of reflection?

Looking at these 6 areas for collaboration, you can imagine the level of candidness and trust that is involved with teachers. You have to think collaboratively so you must find ways in which your ideas intersect with one another in order for mutual respect to be developed. You may not agree with everything but if you can articulate what is non-negotiable and develop shared values, then your team can rally around that.  You have to find the opportunities to connect and identify with each other so that a positive working relationship can start to form, as you begin to see the classroom as “ours” and not “my”.

As I start to begin this process with an unfamiliar group of teachers, it does seem a bit daunting to “nail this” straightaway. Our PYP Coordinator, Chad Walsh,  has really challenged us to examine our willingness towards collaboration. Just today my Grade 1 partner reminded me to not call one side of our space as “my” and “your” room and instead refer to it as “literacy” area and “maths” area.  I appreciated this gesture but it made me very aware that my thinking and language will definitely need to refine as we undergo this transformation. But the willingness and eagerness to try something new are shared by all the members, which makes this effort so much easier. As long as we work on these 6 areas, I know that we will reach the highest levels of collaboration.

What do you think is the most important area to focus on first as you develop collaboration between staff?

Push back or Pull up?

Push back or Pull up?

Several years ago I read Malcolm Gladwell’s book,Outliers, during a long layover in Las Vegas. (Yes, I’m so geeky that I choose books over slot machines). This was the 1st time I was exposed to the 10,000 hour rule, which actually comes from the work of Anders Ericsson, who is considered the expert on peak performance. He details how someone moves from accepting to be “good enough” to reaching extraordinary results through deliberate practice. Working at the boundary of our comfort zone isteacher-inquiry-group one of the most important aspects of shifting from goodness to GREATNESS.

So as I was reflecting on this information, I began to think about the structure that I’d like to see for the collaborative learning groups for my staff’s professional development–how I can cultivate this deliberate practice in our PD on developing the writer skills and attitudes in our learners. So I’ve been trying to find a way to connect the dots between Arthur Costa’s ideas on reflective practice and Ericcson’s idea of deliberate practice.  During this rainy holiday week I decided that I would create a collaborative guide for teachers  that would help move them in a direction that sponsored reflection on their comfort zones during these sessions. This is my first iteration with this effort so I’m looking forward to feedback and I’m really excited to get started. I’m hopeful that teachers will “pull up” each other with thoughtful discussion and deep reflection that promotes another level of sophistication and effectiveness in developing their craft, rather than giving me “push back” on how teachers’ self-directed inquiry doesn’t work.

I feel a bit anxious and vulnerable, but I trust that the teachers’ inner desire to be awesome, coupled with my charisma, will overcome any barriers and they will be open to peer coaching and collaborative planning.

 

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Judy Imamudeen

Judy Imamudeen

Developing learners as leaders is my joy! As a highly qualified International Baccaluearate (IB) teacher and educational leader, I am committed and passionate about executing its framework and empowering students in creating a future world that works for everyone.

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